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Pantoja v. Ramco Enterprises, L.P.

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

November 13, 2019




         On June 12, 2019, Defendant RAMCO Enterprises ("Defendant") removed this action from the Superior Court of California for the County of Monterey. ECF No. 1. Before the Court is Plaintiff Carmela Maribel Arroyo's ("Plaintiff')[1] motion to remand and request for attorney's fees. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the relevant law, and the record in this case, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs motion to remand and DENIES Plaintiffs request for attorneys' fees.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In connection with the pending motion and request, both sides request that the Court take judicial notice of various documents filed in the Superior Court of California for the County of Monterey. ECF Nos. 16-4 and 17-2. Neither party opposes taking judicial notice. "These court filings and orders are judicially noticeable because they have a direct relation to the matters at issue." Hypower, Inc. v. Sunlink Corp., 2014 WL 1618379, at *1 n.l (N.D. Cal. Apr. 21, 2014) (citing Fed.R.Evid. 201 and United States v. Black, 482 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2007)). Additionally, courts regularly take judicial notice of "undisputed matters of public record, including documents on file in federal or state courts." Harris v. Cty. of Orange, 682 F.3d 1126, 1131-32 (9th Cir. 2012) (internal citations omitted). The Court agrees that these documents are subject to judicial notice and therefore GRANTS the requests for judicial notice of these documents pursuant to Rule 201(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence. See Id. However, to the extent any facts in documents subject to judicial notice are subject to reasonable dispute, the Court will not take judicial notice of those facts. See Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 689 (9th Cir. 2001), overruled on other grounds by Galbraith v. County of Santa Clara, 307 F.3d 1119 (9th Cir. 2002).

         The Court recounts the facts from the state court proceedings only as necessary for the resolution of the instant motion and request.

         On February 25, 2014, Plaintiff sued Defendant, a California limited partnership, in the Superior Court of California for the County of Monterey. ECF No. 16-4, Ex. 2 ¶ 5. Plaintiff brought suit on behalf of a putative class of all current and former employees of Defendant "who were non-exempt under the Wage Order and who performed any work for Defendants in California during the Class Period and were paid any portion of their wages on a piece rate basis." Id. ¶ 36. Plaintiff generally alleged that Defendant unlawfully underpaid putative class members for hours worked, minimum wages, overtime wages, rest periods, and other reimbursement costs for work-related expenses. Id. ¶¶ 12-35. Plaintiff alleged various violations of the California Labor Code and the California Business and Professions Code. Id. at 1-2. Plaintiff amended the class action complaint on June 9, 2014 and again on August 31, 2016. ECF No. 16-4, Exs. 3-4. The Second Amended Complaint filed on August 31, 2016 replaced class representative Beatriz Pantoja with current Plaintiff Carmela Maribel Arroyo.

         On July 29, 2015, Plaintiff served a settlement conference statement on Defendant. ECF No. 16-4, Ex. 5. In the settlement conference statement, Plaintiff demanded $11.5 million to resolve all claims at issue, inclusive of costs and attorneys' fees. Id. at 4.

         On May 7, 2019, Plaintiff filed and served Defendant with a motion for class certification. ECF No. 16-5, Ex. 6. The motion for class certification included a spreadsheet that Defendant produced on March 5, 2019 in response to written discovery. ECF No. 16-5 at 31 ¶ 5. The spreadsheet identified thousands of putative class members and included the residences of some putative class members. Id. at 387-513. Some putative class members were listed as residing outside of California. See, e.g., Id. at 418, 446, 456, 459.

         On June 10, 2019, the state court granted Plaintiffs class certification motion in its entirety. ECF No. 1 at 170. On June 12, 2019, more than five years after Plaintiff initiated this action, Defendant removed to this Court. Id. at 1. Trial in the state court action was scheduled for September 16, 2019. Mot at 8.

         On July 12, 2019, Plaintiff moved to remand the case back to state court on the basis that Defendant's notice of removal was untimely. ECF No. 16. Defendant filed an opposition on July 26, 2019, ECF No. 17 ("Opp."), and Plaintiff filed a reply on August 2, 2019, ECF No. 18 ("Reply").


         A. Motion to Remand

         "The right of removal is entirely a creature of statute, and a suit commenced in state court must remain there until cause is shown for its transfer under some act of Congress." Syngenta Crop Prot, 537 U.S. 28, 32 (2002) (quotation marks omitted). In other words, "the removal statute is strictly construed, and any doubt about the right of removal requires resolution in favor of remand." Corral v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., 878 F.3d 770, 773-74 (9th Cir. 2017) (quotation marks and internal alterations omitted). Nonetheless, as the United States Supreme Court explained, the rule is different in cases invoking CAFA jurisdiction, as "no antiremoval presumption attends cases invoking CAFA" because "CAFA's primary objective is to ensure Federal court consideration of interstate cases of national importance." Dart Cherokee Basin Operating Co., LLC v. Owens, 574 U.S. 81, 89 (2014) (internal alterations and quotation marks omitted). At the same time, even under CAFA, "the party seeking federal jurisdiction on removal bears the burden of establishing that jurisdiction." Abrego Abrego v. Dow Chem. Co., 443 F.3d 676, 686 (9th Cir. 2006); id. ("We therefore hold that under CAFA the burden of establishing removal jurisdiction remains, as before, on the proponent of federal jurisdiction.").

         Defendant's contention that "Plaintiff bears the burden of proof in seeking remand to state court" is entirely meritless. See Opp. at 5. Serrano v. 180 Connect, Inc., 478 F.3d 1018, 1024 (9th Cir. 2007), which Defendant relies upon, pertains only to a plaintiffs burden of establishing an exception to CAFA jurisdiction once the defendant has already met its burden of demonstrating CAFA jurisdiction. See Serrano, 478 F.3d at 1024 ("[W]e conclude that although the removing party bears the initial burden of establishing federal jurisdiction . . ., once federal jurisdiction has been established . . ., the objecting party bears the burden of proof as to the applicability of any express statutory exception[.]").

         B. Request for Attorneys' Fees

         Following remand of a case upon unsuccessful removal, the district court may award "just costs and any actual expenses, including attorney fees, incurred as a result of the removal." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). The award of fees and costs is in the discretion of the district court. Lussier v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., 518 F.3d 1062, 1065 (9th Cir. 2008). Nonetheless, "[a]bsent unusual circumstances, courts may award attorney's fees under § 1447(c) only where the removing party lacked an objectively reasonable basis for seeking removal. Conversely, when an objectively reasonable basis exists, fees should be denied." Martin v. Franklin Capital Corp., 546 U.S. 132, 141 (2005).

         The objective reasonableness of removal depends on the clarity of the applicable law and whether such law "clearly foreclosed the defendant's basis of removal." Lussier, 518 F.3d at 1066-67. "If the law in the Ninth Circuit is not so clear as to make the removing party's endeavor entirely frivolous, a court will deny the request for attorney's fees." Prado v. Dart Container Corp. of Cal, 373 F.Supp.3d 1281, 1285 (N.D. Cal. 2019) (quoting Dev. Bank v. Arthur, 2012 WL 1438834, at *7 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 25, 2012)).


         Under the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"), a thirty-day removal period is triggered if the initial pleading does not indicate that the case is removable, [but] the defendant receives 'a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper' from which removability may first be ascertained." Carvalho v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 629 F.3d 876, 885 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3)). Plaintiff moves to remand on the grounds that Defendant's notice of removal was untimely because Defendant filed its notice of removal on June 12, 2019, more than 30 days after Plaintiff served Defendant with an "other paper" indicating that CAFA jurisdiction was proper. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(3). For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs motion to remand and DENIES Plaintiffs request for attorney's fees.

         A. CAFA ...

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